5 Financial Lessons Everyone Should Learn in Their 30s (Did You?)


Regardless of our chosen life path, there are certain financial benchmarks, lessons, and practices along the way that allow us to make the most of what we have and, hopefully, to get ahead. Here are six financial lessons everyone should learn and practice in their 30s. (See also: The 5 Most Important Lessons People Learn in Their 20s)

A Preface on Lifestyle Design

We're generally expected to follow a certain life path — you know the deal: go to school, get a good job, get married, buy a house, pop out 1.5 kids, etc. And although the lessons below apply to this lifestyle template, they can be moulded to your own unique situation. For example — because of the financial lessons I applied in my 20s, plus the financial lessons below, I had the financial freedom to redesign my life, sell everything, and travel the world full-time at the age of 30. So take a broad view of these financial lessons and see how they best suit your own lifestyle designs.

1. Don't Rush Into Buying a House

I used to work as a financial planner, and one of the biggest mistakes I've seen clients (and friends) make is rush into buying property because they're convinced that every month they pay rent, they're throwing money away. So they buy a house with little to no money as a down payment, before realizing that the cost of owning and maintaining property is considerably more than paying rent — especially after their paltry down payment.

One client of mine in her 30s realized her blunder when she lost her house because she got laid off and had no financial reserve (as she had sunk everything — which wasn't much — into her house).

If you want to buy a house, save aggressively for a down payment. This will reduce your mortgage payments, insulate you against interest rate hikes, and give you a jump start on building equity. And saving for a down payment is a great exercise even if you don't end up buying a house; this money could be used to start a business, pay for additional education, or even fund long-term travel aspirations).

2. Budget for Having Kids — But Don't Forget About Retirement

When I was a financial planner, I watched new parents "temporarily" stop saving for retirement when they had kids, only to resume their savings when it was essentially too late (remember that lesson about compound growth you learned in your 20s? It's still very important in your 30s). Other parents simply didn't realize the cost of having kids, or overspent on unnecessary parenting items and baby gear that sunk them into consumer debt. Let's not even talk about the cost of childcare, and later on, higher education. (See also: Can You Afford to Have a Baby?)

Having kids costs money; make sure you've got a budget for it.

And as long as you're having kids, it's good to have a plan to help them financially get ahead in life. Include them in your financial journey, and set milestones for their own financial education that foster comfort and confidence with money. (See also: How to Financially Educate Your Children).

3. Use Financial Experts to Get Ahead

With any luck, you already aligned yourself with a financial planner in your 20s and sorted out your insurance needs, but this isn't a one-time exercise. Perform semi-annual financial reviews and periodically reevaluate your insurance needs. And don't try to reinvent the wheel yourself. Team up with financial experts who know their stuff and can advise you accordingly. In your 30s you already have enough on your plate; growing businesses outsource and hire employees to get ahead — your growing finances require a similar strategy.

4. Go Into Debt Within Your Means

In your 20s, you (hopefully) learned the difference between good debt and bad debt. Regardless of the kind of debt you get into, it's important that you do it within your means, so that you can continue to make payments even if life throws you a curve ball or two.

A prime example of how people in their 30s overextend their debt capabilities is in buying property that they can't afford. Banks calculate the mortgage they'll lend you based on a simple equation that doesn't account for your other expenses and obligations. Some people get the biggest house the bank will allow them, before understanding all the other costs of owning property (like taxes, maintenance, repairs, utilities, etc), and they then realize that they're in over their heads. One unexpected financial blow can send this house of cards down.

The higher your debt, the fewer options you have, but sometimes taking on that debt is still worthwhile. Ask yourself how your debt will help you, and how it could possibly hinder you.

5. Income Is Just a Number — Work With What You Have

My first year in the financial planning business netted me $15,000 in income. Six years later I was earning over six figures. I spent those years along the way thinking life would be easy once I hit six figures.

It wasn't.

In fact, I found that the higher my income was, the higher my expenses were — but I couldn't explain where the money was going. I simply didn't have the financial cushioning I expected to have with a six-figure income.

I made two mistakes that put me behind financially.

The first was that I got caught up in the spending curve that came with earning a higher income. I bought more expensive suits. My Honda Civic was no longer the image I "needed" to portray, so I got a nicer car. I took restaurant meals for granted. And my business expenses outlaid to earn more money were considerably higher (such as the need to hire employees). It stands to reason that you spend more money to make more money, but you can get ahead if you're conscious of how you spend it, instead of allowing yourself to get caught up in the whirlwind.

The second mistake I made was to arbitrarily attach value to an income figure — for example "six figures." Randomly setting that bar without truly understanding how it would make my life better made my eventual achievement of it an anticlimactic disappointment. It's not how much money you make — it's how you use it to empower your life. (See also: A Lot of People Don't Really Understand What Money Is – Do You?)

If You Didn't Learn It in Your 20s, There's Still Time

Concepts like compound growth and getting insurance while you're young and healthy still work in your favor when you're in your 30s. Take a minute and brush up on the financial lessons for people in their 20s to make sure you're ahead of the curve.

What financial lessons did you learn (or re learning or hope to learn) in your 30s? Please share in comments!

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